We’re down to the Conference Finals, and the 2013 NLL Season is quickly drawing to a close. I’m previewing the semifinals match ups, picking winners, and having a great time doing it. Let’s delve into the NLL playoffs!
Eastern Division Finals:
Minnesota Swarm @ Rochester Knighthawks
- Minnesota Swarm
Looks like the Swarm aren’t such a cheap date to the big dance after all. Minnesota, who was the last team in the playoffs, knocked off Toronto, who were the number 1 seed. Cinderella story? Perhaps. I tried warning people about how well Minnesota’s offense was playing, but I’m not sure if Toronto was listening.
Over the past 6 games, the Swarm are averaging 17.5 goals per game. Most recently they put up 20 goals on the Rock, and Toronto isn’t some scrub Senior B team. The offense is swarming with confidence and they have a handful of young players that move the ball well. It was just announced that Jordan MacIntosh won transition player of the year earlier this week. Callum Crawford was named player of the month for April, and Kiel Matisz won the award for rookie of the month.
Minnesota’s offense is very dangerous. The players I mentioned above along with Shayne Jackson and Ryan Benesch all seem to be finding the back of the net at the same time. There is a lot of youthful talent out there, and they are all hungry for the cup. Minnesota also matches up very well in transition with Rochester. Aside from the offense that has similarities of a firehouse, the Swarm have two other bright spots, face offs and goal tending. Last season, Evan Kirk and Tyler Carlson were considered the two best goalies in the league. After early season struggles people seemed to forget about the duo in cage.
Tyler Carlson got the start this past weekend and looked like his old self, 54 saves on 65 shots is solid for playoffs, especially if the offense is averaging nearly 20 goals per game. Also, Jordan MacIntosh won 72% of his draws against the Rock, which is bad news for Rochester because they don’t have a dominant face off player. More wins for Swarm, equals more possessions, equals more goals – its a vicious vortex that Rochester can get trapped in if they aren’t careful.
- Rochester Knighthawks
The good news for Rochester is that they won, but the bad news is star forward Cody Jamieson left the game early with an ankle injury. The Knighthawks haven’t confirmed whether or not Jamieson will suit up this weekend. Knighthawk fans would love to see their team’s leading point scorer back out on the turf of Blue Cross Arena, but there are doubts circling around upstate, New York. Ankle sprains are always tricky, and a week to recover is a very short window. My prediction is we will see Jammer suit up, but only play in limited roles such as power plays. Unless, the training staff can conjure up some Mr. Miyagi healing techniques and fix Cody Jamieson’s ankle.
Dan Dawson managed to pick up the slack after Jammer left, netting 4 goals and helping on 2 others. The downside was that Dawson was the only multiple goal scorer for the Knighthawks. The Knighthawks need to score more than 10 goals if they want to beat the Swarm. There defense and goal tending can only last so long. Speaking of goal tending, Matt Vinc was aptly named team MVP for the Knighthawks.
Once again, Vinc was the difference maker for the K-Hawks, only letting up 8 goals and turning away 29 shots. Vinc will have to be on top of his game this weekend because the Swarm are going to roll into Rochester guns blazing. I like the Swarm to win this one. They peppered Nick Rose in net and will do the same to Matt Vinc, eventually some shots will fall. Too many weapons on offense for the Swarm and with Jammer questionable for the game, Rochester may have to put their championship hopes on hold.
Western Division Finals:
Washington Stealth @ Calgary Roughnecks
- Calgary Roughnecks
The Roughnecks handled the Mammoth as everyone expected they would. Shawn Evans, Jeff Shattler, and Scott Ranger all netted hat-tricks for the Riggers. Calgary’s offense also shot like the zombie apocalypse was happening right after the game, 83 shots in total with 56 making it on net. Calgary is looking good to make a run for the finals – offense is playing well, defense is sturdy, and goal tending is on par. Calgary can make a strong case to hoist the Champion’s Cup. Geoff Snider continues to dominate on face offs, he won 23 out of 29 against Colorado.
The problem is, there is no problem. It is hard to find a flaw with the Roughnecks, they were arguably the most consistent team throughout the regular season and that has carried over to the playoffs. The only trip-up I was able to spot was that Washington has bested the Roughnecks 2 out of 3 times this season, but lets be honest, that means nothing in the playoffs.
- Washington Stealth
Oh Washington, greasing your way past the first round. Well deserved, but yet still somehow shocking to fans. Nothing like a come-from-behind win to gain momentum going into the next round. A late 5-goal run by the Stealth was the difference maker in this contest. Rhys Duch score 4 goals, Athan Iannucci and Tyler Garrison both had two. The Stealth run a well-balanced offense that has a lot of veteran players that know how to get the job done.
Tyler Richards was stellar in net, stopping 41 shots and keeping Mark Matthews at bay. Meanwhile, Bob Snider won 20 of 26 draws to keep the ball on the offensive side of the floor. As we have seen from the other games, it is really hard to win when the other team can dominate the face off dot. Again, just like the Roughnecks, it is hard to fine a flaw in the Stealth’s game. These teams match up very well and each time they met each other this season it has been a close game. This game can easily go one way or the other.
The biggest story line from this game is going to be Snider vs Snider on the face offs. The two best face off men in the league are going head-to-head AND they are brothers. This is big, this is for bragging rights, because the last thing you want to do is sit down for Canadian Thanksgiving and see your brothers big fat championship ring in your face. Just for reference, last time the two Snider brothers battled, Geoff (Calgary) won 17 face offs to Bob’s 10. Obviously, the favor meter will tilt towards whoever wins the majority of the face offs.
I’m going to run with the young guns, Minnesota Swarm in the Eastern Division game and go with my favorite Washington in the Western Division match up. I can’t say for sure who is going to win, but I’m positive that both of these games are going to be great lacrosse. A lot of these players are playing excellent lacrosse going into the summer season, which means weather they will be play MLL, MSL or WLA there is good lacrosse ahead of us. Fear not my friends, lacrosse will prevail. As for now, your only job is to enjoy the great sport of lacrosse.
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Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo